Peacemaker: How Vigilante Steals the Show
Freddie Stroma, the actor behind Vigilante on HBO Max’s Peacemaker, tries to delve into the pathology of a superheroic psychopath.
This article contains light spoilers for Peacemaker through episode 6.
Peacemaker is not an easy character to upstage.
The DC comic antihero has everything one is looking for in a leading man. His appearance is effortlessly iconic – featuring a tight red shirt adorned with a dove of peace logo and a metal helmet shiny enough to make Magneto jealous. His credo is simple: he will have peace, no matter how many men, women, and children he has to kill to get it.
When you combine the natural appeal of Peacemaker as a character with the absurd likeability and acute talents of the actor playing him in John Cena, you have the formula for a game-changing hero. The Suicide Squad director James Gunn certainly thought so as Peacemaker was the character he chose to lead the first TV spinoff of the 2021 DC film.
Now that the HBO Max series that bears his name is nearly complete (with only the finale on Feb. 17 to come), something rather unexpected has happened to Peacemaker. His sidekick has upstaged him. No, we’re not talking about his pet bald eagle Eagly because cute CGI animals upstage any actor by default, but rather his friend’s kid brother turned crime-fighter, Adrian Chase a.k.a. Vigilante.
Vigilante is every bit the psychotic comic relief in Peacemaker that Peacemaker was in The Suicide Squad. Borrowing his name, costume, and little else from a DC Comics character, Vigilante is a hilarious hero with a fascinating psychological profile.
Just as Peacemaker will have peace at any cost, so too will Vigilante have justice at any cost. Adrian Chase’s brain doesn’t quite work like other people’s brains. Anything illegal action whatsoever is grounds for a death sentence from Vigilante, whether that be buying a dime bag of weed or committing genocide.
Vigilante has a hard time picking up on social cues and expressions, taking Peacemaker at his word that his anguished sobs are really just “face exercises.” He thinks it’s appropriate to invite a co-worker at his restaurant job to an abortion party. He removes his pants to pee because he doesn’t like the feeling of fabric on his bare skin. He delivers lines like “Dude. My advice – cut it out with the introspection. The mind is a den of scorpions better left running from not towards” with complete sincerity. When given the opportunity to ask an intelligent extraterrestrial any “yes or no” question, all he wants to know is whether teal is the alien’s favorite color or not.
Simply put: Vigilante is a treasure. And perhaps no one is better aware of that than the actor who plays him, Freddie Stroma.
“He’s so fun,” Stroma says. “He’ll have moments where he does understand and moments where he doesn’t. It’s very apparent when you read the sides which are the moments he doesn’t. As an actor that’s a fun place to be in because you get to create your own internal monologue.”
Despite pulling off a superbly innocuous American Midwestern accent for Vigilante, Stroma is a native Brit who has worked in theater and British television since his teens. Worldwide audiences likely know him best as Cormac McLaggen, a Gryffindor Quidditch bro in the final three Harry Potter films. Stroma is therefore well-versed in the world of literary adaptations but Peacemaker represents his first pass at a comic book project.
When Stroma first read lines for the role it was disguised as that of another obscure DC Comic figure, Sportsmaster. Once securing the job as Vigilante, Stroma pored through dozens of comics featuring the Adrian Chase incarnation character, before discovering that Peacemaker’s version was nothing like the comics’ conflicted New York district attorney.
“I started to realize that there’s no point in trying to do any research in that direction. James (Gunn) just explained that he doesn’t pick up on a lot of social cues. He looks up to Peacemaker a lot. We really played with that, having him feel like he’s the younger brother. He’s an odd character with a lot of different colors.”
Though Peacemaker’s Adrian Chase is indeed vastly different from any other incarnation, the character’s costume is ripped straight from the page. Once Vigilante finally accepts that Peacemaker’s new government friends actually know his true identity (and that’s quite a process), the character actually spends a lot of time with his mask off and big librarian glasses on, giving Stroma an opportunity to fill out Adrian Chase even more.
“I’m very glad that we got to do a lot of the mask-off stuff. There’s so much more you can express and communicate. It’s also fun to have the mask on, be physical, and use your voice in different ways.”
There is no word yet on Peacemaker season 2 but Stroma hopes to get a greenlight soon to get back to the process of understanding his character’s skills, neuroses, and even disrupted anatomy.
“The pinky toe is good. I’m able to walk even though the internet told me I couldn’t.”
The Peacemaker season 1 finale premieres Thursday, Feb. 17 on HBO Max.